Sep 6, 2023 - Climate

Washington had some of the nation's worst power outages in 2021

Data: U.S. Energy Information Administration; Chart: Axios Visuals

Washington customers experienced some of the worst power outages in the country in 2021, a year marked by an extreme Pacific Northwest heatwave.

By the numbers: The average Washington state electricity customer experienced about 8.8 hours of power outages in 2021 — up from about 4.4 hours in 2020 and more than triple the average from 2013.

  • That's the eighth-worst average among all 50 states, per data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, an agency within the Department of Energy.

Why it matters: Electricity outages stand to become more common as extreme weather events — many driven by climate change — wreak havoc on the country's aging power infrastructure.

  • While some outages are short-lived annoyances, others are widespread events. Either can become deadly for those who depend on medical equipment, or for those who lose heating or air conditioning during periods of extreme temperatures.

Zoom in: In 2021, Washington residents in the Puget Sound region and Eastern Washington experienced power outages during an unprecedented heatwave.

  • And in 2015, Washingtonians experienced widespread power outages — an average of nearly 11 hours per customer.
  • That year, a destructive windstorm hit Eastern Washington, leaving 180,000 customers without power, while wildfires burned more acres of land than any year in state history.

The big picture: The average U.S. electricity customer experienced 7.3 hours of power outages in 2021 — down from 8.2 hours in 2020, but more than double 2013's rate.

  • The nationwide average of outage-hours has been trending upward over the last several years, beginning with a notable spike in 2017 driven in part by outages following Hurricane Irma.

What's next: Funding is coming for improvements, including a $13 billion investment from the 2021 infrastructure law aimed at modernizing the electrical grid.

  • U.S. Sen. Patty Murray announced last month that Washington state would receive more than $23 million to upgrade its grid, with the goal of making it more resilient to wildfires, heatwaves and other extreme weather events.

What they're saying: "As climate-related natural disasters become more frequent and more severe, we need to be doing everything we can to make sure our energy grid can handle the increased strain," Murray said in a news release.

What we're watching: How long it will take for those funds to translate into real-world improvements — and what support is offered to residents in the meantime.


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